Formerly Homeless Students in Milwaukee Urge Teens to Persevere

Aug 30, 2016

During every school year in Milwaukee, thousands of students are identified as homeless. In MPS, the number has been hovering at just under 4,000.

 The district tracks-down as many of the students as it can, to get services to them – such as transportation and food, hoping they attend school. As we reported Monday, a big push to connect with them is underway now, at the end of summer break.

A few young adults who were homeless while in school have shared parts of their journeys.

Cinque (CiCi) Brady

“I’m not ashamed to say it. People shame you down for it - 'oh, you’re homeless; you have a bad life.' Even though things happened, you know?"

Eighteen-year-old Cinque 'Cici' Brady says she's been in and out of the foster care system since she was five years old. The last few years have been especially difficult, Brady says, after her mom kicked her out of the house. 

"Ever since then it's been hard going back and forth to school, with the anxiety and depression and the PTSD," she explains.

Brady most recently attended Alliance High School, what she called a "really good" public school. She describes the atmosphere as comfortable. During a particularly hard time, one teacher even helped Brady cover her phone bill and buy clothes.

"(The teachers) were like family to me. They see the potential in students. And they know that stuff is going on because they can just see it and they actually ask and care."

In the beginning of 2015, Brady skipped school - a lot. She says she had other things on her mind, and school began to take a toll on her mood. 

"I didn’t feel like I wanted to go because it was just too much, too much to take in one time," she recalls.

"People say school should be put before everything but you can't go to school and not have a place to stay."

After a few months, Brady decided to start going back to class regularly. She says she noticed as time went on, the need for a diploma became more crucial to finding steady work. 

But when she returned, she found the credential was already hers. 

"I came there and they told me I graduated. Like, when was this? Why wasn’t I here?" she giggles. "'Cici you don’t go here anymore you graduated,' I’m like what? I want to recheck that though because I didn't get any papers."

Brady aspires to go back to school, to learn how to turn her dream of owning a restaurant into a reality.

"I cook really well. So I want to build my own restaurant a steak and cheesecake house. I make really good cheesecake and steak, so I might as well just put them on plate together. So I want to go to college for business management and culinary arts. Probably next year because I have to work on a couple of things before that.

"Currently there are two of my siblings with me (who are 12 years old.)," she explains. "They're in the system and my mom is going through some things, so she can’t get them. So I’m the only one who can take care of them. I have to get custody of them, and then start with everything else."

As far as advice goes, Brady has one message for kids going through situations like her own.

"I would tell (young people) that, even though things get really hard for you, you should always keep your head up and never let anything get you down because at the end of the day all you have is yourself."

Pathfinders is one local organization that at supports Milwaukee's homeless youth.
Credit Craig Leren
Unidentified student

Another formerly homeless Milwaukee student, who does not want to be identified, encourages others to persevere, despite the difficulties and injustice.

"I don’t think there should be any homelessness at all, in the world. It's nothing to be ashamed of, because it's life, and I'm pretty sure a lot of other people have very similar if not worse situations."

"Keep going. Keep going and never let anybody put you down. If you have people in your life who are holding on but negative, drop those people, you don't need them. Keep working hard and accomplish."

As for what’s right around the corner, he plans to join AmeriCorps.

"(I see myself, down the road) probably somewhere in the field of psychology. I feel the human mind is amazing, and the things that we don't even know that we can do with them yet,” he says.

Christy Lehman

Former Reagan High School student Christy Lehman says she was homeless for three years.

For a time, she lived in a transitional shelter called Lissy’s Place. Eventually she found her way to Pathfinders which helped her find a job. Now, she plans to attend Mount Mary University, for interior design, and she hopes other teens in Milwaukee who may not have a permanent address right now also keep moving forward.

“Everybody goes through troubles and everything like that. People they look at me and say, you were homeless for two or three years, and I was like, 'yeah it was hard,'" Lehman recalls. 

"I think everybody goes through stuff in life, and I think if you share that you are going through hard stuff or have been through hard stuff that they will be able to get through things easier."

Lehman recently moved into her second apartment.

"You can do it. It’s hard but it’s doable. And there were times where I did wanted to give up and I didn’t want to do it anymore - 'living on the streets was just fine with me.'" Lehman says.

"But you have to accept the fact that you have to want better for yourself and you can have better for yourself."